Kettil Bruun Society for Social and Epidemiological Research on Alcohol

Authors


Ingeborg Rossow
Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research
POB 565 Sentrum
N-0105 Oslo
Norway

ABSTRACT

The Kettil Bruun Society for Social and Epidemiological Research on Alcohol (KBS) was established in 1987 and is an independent organization open to all scientists working on problems related to social and epidemiological research on alcohol. The aim of the Society is to promote social and epidemiological research which fosters a comparative understanding of the social aspects of alcohol use and alcohol problems. In line with this the Society also aims at promoting a spirit of international collaboration. The Kettil Bruun Society is based on individual membership and, by 2003, has 197 fully paid-up members, representing 34 different countries over five continents. The main activities include an annual meeting as well as thematic meetings. In these meetings, discussions are emphasized by having precirculated papers and assigned discussants. The KBS also serves as a basis for organizing international collaborative projects. Project meetings or work-shops are often organized around the annual meetings, and the projects tend to run over several years. The Society's primary influence is through the mutual influence of its members on each others’ thinking, the work of the projects that KBS sponsors and the influence its members have collectively on the development of the field.

BACKGROUND

The Kettil Bruun Society for Social and Epidemiological Research on Alcohol (KBS) was established formally in 1987 to promote a comparative understanding of the social aspects of alcohol use and alcohol problems. The society was formed relatively shortly after the death of Kettil Bruun, one of the pioneers in social alcohol research, and it was decided to name the society to honour not only Kettil Bruun's important and pioneering work in alcohol research but also his commitment to and significance for collaboration and collective scientific thinking across scientific themes, methods and cultures (Mäkelä 1986).

For many of the early members of the society, the KBS was, to a large extent, a continuation of traditions and activities in international collaborative work among social scientists and epidemiologists within alcohol research. The society was formed as a merger of two previously existing activities: the epidemiology section of the International Council on Alcohol and Addictions (ICAA), which held annual alcohol epidemiology symposia, and the International Group for Comparative Alcohol Studies (IGCAS), which had been formed in 1982 to hold occasional international thematic meetings in the alcohol research field, and as an umbrella organization for collaborative international research projects (Room 1999). The fact that the society has existed for just 16 years and yet organized its 29th annual meeting this year is due to the inclusion of the previous annual meetings of the epidemiology section of International Council on Alcohol and Addictions (ICAA) in the count, and reflects a sense of continuity. Nevertheless, it should be noted that although the society has its roots in the ICAA, it is an independent organization.

The aim of KBS is to promote social and epidemiological research which fosters a comparative understanding of the social aspects of alcohol use and alcohol problems. In line with this, the society also aims at promoting a spirit of international collaboration. The Society has taken an expansive view of its focal interests; historical, policy–analytical and ethnographic work, for example, is welcomed at its meetings, as are studies on other drugs, although the Society has declined to extend its mandate formally beyond alcohol.

As of July 2003, the KBS has 197 fully paid-up members. Based on the country of the member's primary research affiliation, five continents and a total of 34 different countries are represented currently. In terms of membership, the United States (45) has the largest contingent, followed by Sweden (29), Finland (20), Norway (20) and Canada (15).

PRESENT AND RECENT ACTIVITIES

The main activities of the Kettil Bruun Society include an annual meeting as well as thematic meetings, which serve as a template to foster international collaboration among alcohol researchers. In these meetings, the majority of participants present papers. In order to maximize discussion, papers are precirculated and a discussant is assigned to prepare constructive commentaries. Over the years, this format gave raise to stimulating and challenging debates on methodological and theoretical issues.

Annual meetings

A core activity of the society is the annual meeting, a 5-day meeting usually held during the first week of June. This year the 29th annual symposium of the Kettil Bruun Society was hosted by the Institute for Psychiatry of Warsaw, Poland, and took place in Krakow. More than 140 people participated and slightly more than 100 papers were presented during the main symposium. The papers covered a broad range of areas and themes related to alcohol such as measurement issues, drinking patterns and contexts, aspects of prevention and treatment, alcohol-related harm and policy issues.

According to analyses by Henk Garretsen and colleagues, presented in 1993 and 2003, the overall number of participants at these annual meetings has increased considerably over the years, from 55 participants in the early years to about 150, the number being higher when the meeting is organized in the United States or Canada. The proportion of female participants has also increased considerably, from around 25–30% in the mid-1980s to about 55% in the new millennium. Mainly North America and European countries are represented, yet the number of participants from Asian, African and Latin American countries is still growing. In recent years, participants from more than 35 different countries have attended the KBS annual meeting.

As the majority of participants at the annual meetings present a paper, the number of papers presented has increased over the years, from around 35–50 papers in the mid-1980s to above 100 papers in recent years. Over the years, drinking patterns and/or alcohol problems, alcohol policy and treatment have been the most important topics addressed by the papers. However, these topics have been renewed constantly, both theoretically and methodologically, and new topics have emerged. For instance, in recent years an increase in the number of papers on gender and alcohol, violence and alcohol, drugs and alcohol has been seen. With regard to the research methods used, a fairly large proportion (approximately four of 10 papers presented) are based on survey data. However, relatively many papers are based on qualitative research methods, particularly in studies on addiction and in relation to target groups that often are ‘difficult to reach’.

Thematic meetings

The Kettil Bruun Society has continued the IGCAS tradition of hosting thematic meetings attracting a smaller number of participants and focusing on a particular topic. In part, these meetings have initiated a broader interest in certain areas or pursued topics over several thematic meetings. For instance, the issue of drinking patterns was the focus of two thematic meetings (Toronto 1995, Perth 1998). The former resulted in a collection of papers published in Addiction in 1996. This topic has also been brought up again in later thematic meetings, i.e. ‘Measuring drinking patterns, alcohol problems and their connection’ (Stockholm, 2000; papers published in the Journal of Substance Abuse) and ‘Youth cultures and subcultures: functions and patterns of drinking and drug use’ (Stockholm, 2001; paper published in Contemporary Drug Problems). Other topics of recent thematic meetings were ‘Community-based prevention of alcohol and drug related harms’ (Helsinki, 2002—the fourth in a series of such meetings); ‘From science to practice? 100 years later, alcohol policies revisited’ (Bern 2002); ‘Addiction in the life-course perspective—entry and exit processes’ (Stockholm, 2002); and ‘Preventing substance, risky use and harm: what is evidence-based policy?’ (Perth, 2003).

Collaborative projects and workshops at annual meetings

The Kettil Bruun Society serves as a basis for organizing international collaborative projects. Project meetings or workshops are often organized around the annual meetings, and the projects tend to run over several years. Books on alcohol and drug treatment systems in an international perspective (Klingemann et al. 1992; Klingemann & Hunt 1998), and books on Alcoholics Anonymous in an international perspective (Mäkeläet al. 1996; Eisenbach-Stangl & Rosenqvist 1998), are examples of products of such projects from earlier years. Among present-day collaborative projects within KBS, an ‘old-timer’ is the International Research Group on Gender and Alcohol (IRGGA), which has held annual workshops since 1993. IRGGA membership has expanded significantly over these years, and includes now more than 125 researchers from 40 countries. A main activity for IRGGA has been to conduct and publish comparative cross-national analyses of men's and women's drinking based on existing survey data sets. In recent years IRGGA members have designed a major international study where a common questionnaire is applied to gather new data on men's and women's drinking in numerous countries. This study, Gender, Alcohol and Culture: an International Study (GENACIS) now includes surveys in more than 30 countries and has received funding from the EU, WHO and NIAAA. More information on IRGGA and GENACIS can be found at http://www.medicine.novak.edu/irgga.

Other workshops that have been held at the meetings in recent years are: ‘Qualitative research methods in the alcohol and drug field’, ‘Alcohol-related crashes—how to cut them down’ and ‘Alcohol and drugs in the work place’.

THE INFLUENCE OF THE SOCIETY

As a matter of principle, the members of the Kettil Bruun Society have decided against taking a collective public stand on any issue. The Society's meetings are seen as market-places for ideas, where all scholarly perspectives are welcome.

The Society's primary influence is thus through the mutual influence of its members on each others’ thinking, the work of the projects the Society sponsors, and the influence its members have collectively on the development of the field. The annual June meeting has become a nexus to which a variety of project and ad hoc meetings are attached, and thematic meetings are often also the venue for side events and project meetings. Preparation of a number of recent World Health Organization publications, for instance, has involved side-meetings in association with KBS meetings (e.g. WHO 2000; Room et al. 2002).

The primary focus of the society is to share ideas, theoretical and empirical considerations and constructive criticism. While many KBS members are involved in health recommendations, policy guidance, etc. these activities are apart from their membership in the Society.

CONCLUSION

The Society is well established by now as the main international scholarly society in the field of social science and epidemiological research on alcohol. Researchers from the social alcohol research centres in the world, and all those with international interests, are involved in the activities of the Society. KBS is also proving successful at managing the generational transition from its founding generation, with many younger faces both at its meetings and involved in managing the Society's affairs.

Despite consistent and substantial efforts, the Society's success has been limited in broadening its scope beyond the relatively small list of countries with strong social alcohol research traditions, and a smaller number of committed researchers from a wider range of countries. Through support for WHO and other means, the GENACIS project has helped to increase the participation from developing countries, beyond what can otherwise be managed with the Society's limited support for attendance at the meetings.

In the future, the Society will pursue its commitment to attract young researchers and to diversify its membership.

MEMBERSHIP AND FEES

KBS membership is open for all scientists working on problems related to social and epidemiological research on alcohol. It is based on individual membership, with a modest annual fee (US$25 per year if paid by personal resources, alternatively US$75 per year if paid by institutional resources). Membership of the Society gives the right to vote for election of president/vice president and members of the Coordinating Committee and other elections instituted by the Coordinating Committee, as well as participation and voting at the annual general membership meeting. Membership of the society is not a prerequisite for participation in the meetings, although participants are generally asked to apply for, or renew their membership, if they are not members. The membership fees constitute the main source of income for the society, while the main expenditure is for partial support for a limited number of researchers otherwise unable to attend the annual symposiums. The membership list is not available publicly.

Information about the society, ongoing activities, how to apply for membership, etc. is found on the KBS website: http://www.kbs.org, or alternatively via the website of The Alcohol Research Group (http://www.arg.org) that hosts the KBS website.

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